Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sing a Song of Singer

I'm trying to get back into the car boot sale scene again - although 7:00 am starts in the dead of winter (there are two year-round boot sales near me) somehow lack appeal, especially when there's a good chance I'll come away empty handed. It was worth it on Sunday though, when I picked up this vintage sewing cabinet. The chap selling it assured us it was working fine; he'd had his friend who services sewing machines check it out.

I do already have a sewing machine but it's not technically mine, it's Joanna's old one that she lent to me when she bought a better one. I'm still a sewing novice and I don't know anything about sewing machines, but I liked that it was in a table (it would improve things from sewing cross-legged on the floor, pressing the pedal with my knee) and folds neatly away when not in use. Plus, it's vintage.

When we got home I did a bit of research and discovered that this particular model, the Singer 201K, is the iconic Singer model, considered by many to be the pinnacle of sewing quality.

The 201K model was launched in 1939 and cost a small fortune, several months' wages for some. People paid for their Singers in instalments.

The early Singers were cast iron and weighed a ton. Singer switched to aluminium in the 1950s and mine is one of these later models, dating towards the end of the 201's run. In the early 1960s, after a quarter of a century in production, the Singer 201K was discontinued when it became economically unviable to make.

The Factory at Clydebank, Scotland, c1940

Mine is in a cabinet very similar to this one, which incorporates a treadle although the machine is electric. I wonder if the cabinet is older than the machine - surely they weren't still making treadle machines by the late 50s?

The 201K only does straight stitching, but since I've not yet used any other stitch style on the machine I'm currently using I'll probably manage. I particularly like that it came with attachments including a rolled hem foot, binding foot and ruffler as standard! Unfortunately The zipper foot is missing (so I'll be stalking ebay for one of those - shouldn't be too difficult to find), but by way of consolation the previous owner invested in one of the optional attachments, the adjustable hemmer, which I'm most intrigued to try out - I usually hand sew invisible hems so it'll make an interesting experiment.

As you can imagine, I'm enormously looking forward to using the 201K for my next sewing project!

Some of the information about the 201K is from The writer, Alex Askaroff, lives not far from me (in fact I rather wonder if he's not the car boot sale man's machinist friend?). His website's worth a look - there's lots of stuff to read including an interesting History of the Sewing Machine.


  1. Hmmm - have carboots really started already?

    A super bargain that has made me super envious! Enjoy :)

  2. Wow awesome as .I really want to get myself a treadle singer just love the way they look and is a great novelty for the GKds to practice on.

  3. Oh I adoore old singer -sewing machines! We have one on our old summerhouse in the countryside :)

  4. I have a vintage singer too, an old black and gold one, i bought it from a Booty on Holloway rd, London last year... was very heavy carrying it home on the bus!

    I have been an avid reader of your blog for some time and have taken the plunge and started my own. If you have the time, please check it out, its still a work in progress and have allot to learn :)

  5. How cool that you found the old ads, as well. I always think it's so neat to know how things were advertised and what they cost.

    I have to drag my husband away from the sewing machines at estate sales! He's an engineer and fascinated with all their movable parts, so he wants to give them a good home, but I already have two!

  6. you have to tell me which boot sales you go to, you lucky bugger! the mister once came home with a vintage singer machine he found in a charity shop, in its original snake skin case (i'm presuming its not realy snake skin though!) and you're right, it weighs a ton!

    do you have any good recomendations for boot sales in sussex?




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